Behind The Scenes | Calum Clark
By his own admission, Calum Clark isn’t missing training or playing rugby, but he’s delighted to have found a meaningful way to stay involved in a game that has played such a large part in his life for the past 14 years.
Having hung up his boots in the summer after playing in 170 Premiership matches and 59 European clashes for Leeds Carnegie, Northampton Saints and Saracens, he was back at the Old Albanians training ground in a different guise.
Instead of being the rough, tough and hard to bluff back row man who was good enough to reach two Junior World Championship finals, captain England Saxons, win one England cap, help Saints win a Premiership and European Challenge Cup title and play in the 2011 Heineken Cup final, he has become the go-to man for different reasons.
His new title is ‘Player Development and Well Being Manager’, which involves individual one on one coaching, developing and implementing the team mindfulness programme. Another aspect is inspiring an appreciative inquiry culture at the organisational level.
‘AI’ – appreciative inquiry rather than artificial intelligence – is based on five principles: Constructionist, Simultaneity, Anticipatory, Poetic, and Positive. It recognises that culture can lift people or let them down.
‘AI’ leverages the power of storytelling — words create worlds and images inspire action. Language and visualisation play a crucial role to understand the present and see the future respectively. Inquiry creates change; positive questions drive positive change. ‘AI’ invites us to lead with questions.
That is the theory, but what is the practice?
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I finished playing, so I went back into education. I had a BA in Business Management, but I decided to follow a path into psychology,” said Clark.
“It’s a subject that has always fascinated me and so I took a Masters degree at East London University. I’m currently two-years into a second MSc that this time is in applied positive psychology and coaching psychology.
“I was lucky in that after retiring from playing in June this year, Saracens offered me this incredibly exciting post a month later. It really was as though I never left.
“I was given a blank sheet of paper on which to work out what I thought was going to be the best way to work. I have various contacts with the players when they need a sound board if things are going on with their game or in their lives.
“I deal mainly with the psychological side of things rather than the physical. The aim, as with all the specialists who work with the players, is to enable them to go onto the field unencumbered and unfettered.
“We are all here to ensure the players are in the best possible shape, mentally as well as physically, to produce their very best in game situations. They must be free to express themselves and free to perform at their best.
“We try to take a more holistic approach to the development of the players and the people in the business. We try to let them know we are invested in them as much as they are in the team they play for.
“We understand that people involved in professional support need as much help as possible in their day to day lives. I believe passionately in this type of work at Saracens.”
A lot of his work is done with the younger players at the club. For Clark it is a matter of building relationships and trust.
“There was nothing like this available to me when I first started out as a young professional in the academy at Leeds. I’m motivated to try to provide what I needed as a player, yet never had,” he added.
“The real value of the work I am doing is with the 18-24-year-olds at the club – feed the hungry minds and they will take on board the key messages. We work from the bottom up, but my door is open to everyone at the club.
“I had almost started the work before I had finished playing because I was helping with the training of the development group. The relationship had already begun.
“They must trust me and realise I always want the best for them. I encourage them to take the best possible decisions in their lives.
“What I’m most interested in is them being able to lead the most authentic, positive and true life they possible can.”
Still only 32, some might say Clark hung up his boots too early. Others are now of the view he is making an even bigger contribution to the game and the club in his new role off the field as he used to do on the pitch.